Monrovia – Illicit mining activities in Liberia continue to be a problem as government officials have now become shifting blame at one another.
Report by Gerald Koinyeneh, firstname.lastname@example.org
River Gee County District #1 Representative, Alexander Poure says Mines and Energy Minister, Gesler E. Murray and his Assistant Minister, Emmanuel T. Swen are responsible for the out-of-control illicit mining across Liberia.
However, the Ministry debunked the allegation and said it is doing everything possible with the meager resources at its disposal to ensure that the sector is regulated.
According to Rep. Poure, the Ministry’s decision to place a ban on the granting of permits to local miners to use heavy equipment such as dredges has opened the floodgate for illicit mining activities in Liberia.
In a stinging attack against the Minister and his team, Rep. Poure alleged that they are not doing much to stop the aliens and illegal miners because they receive bribe in the form of hefty fines levy against the illicit miners.
“I want to blame the Minister of Lands and Mines and his assistant Minister, Emmanuel T. T. Swen. And this attitude of encouraging illicit mining is depriving the government of needed revenues; thereby causing the government to lose a lot of money. They collect these monies, in my view, and pocket it while the coffers of government they claimed to be working for are bleeding.”
“Government is crying for money and they are collecting these money protecting those Ghanaians and those Chinese. I think this act is un-nationalistic and unpatriotic. And I am calling on the President to take immediate action to call the ministry to order so they can revisit their action.”
In response to Rep. Poure’s allegations, the Assistant Minister for Mines, Emmanuel T. Swen contended that the allegations against him and Minister Murray are totally untrue.
Mr. Swen indicated that despite limited budget, the Ministry of Mines and Energy is working assiduously to combat illicit mining in Liberia.
“I place it as a challenge to disprove this and let him know that he is under moral responsibility to prove what he has said because you don’t rain down accusation on reputable people in society and just leave it like that. We have our hard earned character which we have built over the years and we will not allow anyone whether a lawmaker or not, to just come and taint our character unjustifiably. We will not allow it. He will prove it,” Assistant Minister Swen defended.
Rep. Poure made the allegations at a news conference in Monrovia following his return from the Southeast where he had gone on a ‘fact finding mission’.
According to him, the forests and communities in River Gee and Grand Kru Counties are flooded with several Chinese and Ghanaians carrying out mass scales of illicit mining.
He displayed photographs and videos of large alluvial mining sites being operated by Chinese nationals with heavy equipment including yellow machines and dredges in River Gee and Grand Kru Counties and called on President Weah to intervene.
According to him, he reported some of these “illegal miners” to the police for questioning and it was discovered that they did not have any document including resident permit and operating licenses.
“We saw the Chinese there working. We saw more than 25 Chinese, we saw Ghanaians there working. No resident permit, no work permit. No license to show as yellow machine operators, yet they are there working and extracting our mineral resources. The Mines and Energy Minister and deputies are sitting down there. So, they are encouraging illicit mining. And they know the reason why they are doing that. There is a reason behind it,” he vented.
He indicated that the moratorium has overstayed and the Ministry of Mines and Energy has failed to come up with new measure, thereby causing the miners to continue to operate illegally. He called for the lifting of the ban and legalizing the miners to collect needed revenues.
He revealed that he has called key parties including the heads of the Ministries of Mines and Energy and Public Works, Liberia Immigration Service (LIS) and the National Security Agency (NSA) to address the issues of illicit mining, influx of illegal migrants, and labor related issues, but all of the discussions have led to no result.
The LIS, he stated, told him that they were not equipped enough to man the over three porous borders Liberia had with its neighbors including Ivory Coast, Guinea, and Sierra Leone and when arrested the LIS cannot be able to repatriate them.
“The immigration boss told us that there are more than 300 entry points into our country and they don’t have the capacity to man all of these borders,” he said.
“In fact, the Ghanaians are using these points in Grand Kru County and when they arrest those guys they don’t have the capacity to repatriate them and when those guys entered they are being harbored by the indigenous so there is no way that you can separate them.”
But Assisatant Minister Swen said the ban was placed because local miners were misusing the opportunity. According to him, there was a clause that allows Class C miners use dredge and other equipment in a special cases, but many local miners were misusing the clause and violating best environmental practices.
He revealed that the ban has been lifted, but applicants will have to be scrutinized properly before being given permit if to avoid the recurrence of the bad practices.
He noted that Rep. Poure was once a miner before his election as a lawmaker, and he may have been affected by the ban. He, however, called for dialogue to find a way forward.
Meanwhile, Rep. Poure’s allegation comes days after Mines and Energy Minister Gesler Murray called on the Legislature to increase the Ministry’s annual budget from US$1.9 million to US$5 million in order to tackle Illicit Mining across the country.
Addressing the plenary of the House of Representatives recently, Minister Murray noted that the US$1.9 million budget only covers salaries and not operational cost as perceived by many.
Without operational fund, he noted that the ministry could not execute its duties to the fullest.
Another issue that caught the attention of the lawmakers in plenary was the report of foreign miners’ alleged sexual abuse of Liberian teenagers with some producing pornographic movies and uploading on social media.
They rescheduled the hearing with the Minister to continue the hearing in order to find an amicable solution.